26 April 2017

Wordless Wednesday: Glory-of-the-snow

Chionodoxa, or glory-of-the-snow, in bloom. A happy little burst of blue.

24 April 2017

Favorite Poems & Poets: Joy Harjo

When I was an undergrad, I was lucky enough to hear Joy Harjo speak at my college. I was so moved by her words and use of language that I immediately went out and bought three of her poetry collections. Her poems are beautiful yet cryptic and, reading them, I always feel I am skimming the bare surface of meaning.

Today I'm sharing excerpts from two poems. The first is "The Woman Hanging From The Thirteenth Floor Window," a poem from She Had Some Horses. It's about a woman contemplating her life -- should she break loose and fall or climb back up and reclaim herself? The second is "Perhaps the World Ends Here," from The Woman Who Fell From the Sky. It's, ostensibly, a poem about a kitchen table but is also a big ol' metaphor for life.
"The Woman Hanging From The Thirteenth Floor Window"

She is the woman hanging from the 13th floor
window. Her hands are pressed white against the
concrete moulding of the tenement building. She
hangs from the 13th floor window in east Chicago,
with a swirl of birds over her head. They could
be a halo, or a storm of glass waiting to crush her.

She thinks she will be set free.
Please click here to read the rest of the poem.
"Perhaps the World Ends Here"

At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers.

Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children. They laugh with us at our poor falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back together once again at the table.

This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun.

Wars have begun and ended at this table. It is a place to hide in the shadow of terror. A place to celebrate the terrible victory.
My extract doesn’t start at the poem's beginning nor does it end at the poem's end. Click here to read it in full.

And here's a (longish) video of Joy Harjo talking at the 2013 Chicago Humanities Festival about her family and other things:

20 April 2017

Improv Cooking Challenge: Banana & Coconut

It's that time again! The monthly "Improv Cooking Challenge"! April's focus ingredients were banana and coconut. While my peers have created impressive sweet and savory dishes, I have kept it simple and made fancy ... toast. (Fancy toast is a totally legitimate thing, you know. There are even whole cookbooks dedicated to it. I'm just being trendy. Right?)


This toast makes sweet, super-quick, and breakfast that will keep you going through the morning. It's important to use a well-toasted thick, hearty bread -- I used Silver Hills' high-fiber Sprouted Power Mack's Flax -- or it will be overwhelmed by the toppings and flop about when you try to pick it up. I mean ... I guess you could eat the toast with a knife and fork, but that kind-of defeats the purpose of toast, yes?



Fancy Toast

Yield: 1 or 2, depending on hunger

Ingredients

  • 2 slices hearty whole-grain bread, toasted as you like
  • 4 Tbsp soft, spreadable goat cheese [Vermont Creamery]
  • ½ half peeled banana, sliced
  • 2 Tbsp blueberries
  • 2 Tbsp unsweetened flaked coconut [Bob's Red Mill]
  • Honey, as needed
  • Cinnamon, as needed

Instructions

  • Spread toast with goat cheese.
  • Top with banana, blueberries, and coconut.
  • Drizzle with honey and sprinkle with cinnamon as desired.
  • Eat.

If you don't like goat cheese, ricotta or farmer's cheese would also work. And, obviously, pretty much any combination of fruits would be tasty!

For anyone new to my blog, the Improv Cooking Challenge is a monthly blog hop where two ingredients are assigned, participants must make a new-to-their-blog recipe using both ingredients, and publish a blog post about it on the third Thursday of the month. If you think that sounds like fun, click on the Improv Cooking Challenge logo below.





19 April 2017

Wordless Wednesday: Hyacinths

Purple hyacinths are almost ready to flower!

17 April 2017

Easy Easter Lamb


It was my turn to host Easter and, of course, I made lamb. Usually, I roast a boneless or semi-boneless leg, but this year I wanted to be a little fancy and roasted three racks of lamb. In total, I roasted nearly 5 lb of lamb which was, even by my own overly-hospitable standards, a bit much for four adults (even with leftovers factored in). Next time, only two racks! Or more people at the table?


Greek Rack of Lamb

Yield: 4, very generously

Ingredients

  • 3 racks of lamb (approximately 1½ lbs apiece)
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 3 Tbsp Greek seasoning blend [Penzeys]
  • 8 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil

Instructions

  • About an hour before cooking, place lamb on a large foil-lined baking tray and let it come to room temperature in a cool place.
  • Preheat oven to 375°.
  • In small bowl, combine the lemon zest, Greek seasoning, garlic, and oil. Rub over lamb.
  • Bake 30-40 minutes or until meat reaches desired doneness (imho, that's 160° for medium).
  • Let stand 5 minutes before carving. (To carve, cut from the meaty end toward the bone).


The lamb chops went over really well and I will definitely roast more racks in the future ... although not as many at once.

13 April 2017

Lemon & Dill Baked Tilapia

I'm down to cooking one supper for the two of us during the work week, because -- between my new job, gym, yoga, poker, and other important things -- our weekday schedules don't overlap at suppertime. And when I am around to cook, I find I want to make something fast, easy, and mindless.


Essentially, we eat a lot of variations on this dish. It works with pretty much any white fish as well as salmon and the fresh dill can easily be replaced with equivalent amounts of dry herbs or seasoning blends. The only things that are consistent from version to version are oven temperature, lemon, olive oil, and garlic.


Lemon & Dill Tilapia

Yield: 4

Ingredients

  • 4 tilapia fillets
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 Tbsp minced fresh dill
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 400°F.
  • Brush a baking dish with a little olive oil or spritz with cooking spray.
  • Blot fillets dry with a paper towel and arrange fillets in dish.
  • Mix remaining ingredients in a bowl and spread over fillets.
  • Bake fillets uncovered for 15-20 minutes or until fish flakes easily and has reached 145°F.



12 April 2017

Wordless Wednesday: Perky Purple Pansies

"I send thee pansies while the year is young,
Yellow as sunshine, purple as the night."
~ Sarah Dowdney, Pansies

11 April 2017

Favorite Poems & Poets: Judy Grahn

I discovered Judy Grahn waaaay back when I was a 90s-era college freshman, lurking in the library stacks, looking for something I couldn't begin to articulate. Like many people of that age and time, I was full of unfamiliar stirrings and oh-so-many FEELS but had no cultural, religious, or emotional frame to hang them on.


I was a bookish girl, you know. All my life, whenever I couldn't find the words to explain the world, books were there to help me. And I quite legitimately expected books would help me with the Big Queer Feels.

So I stumbled my way through reams of poetry and feminist essays until I found a version of myself and the world that felt "true." And Judy Grahn was a big part of that. First with her Another Mother Tongue and then, later, with her poetry.

In hindsight, it is clear I sometimes had no real understanding of what I read, but the words she chose ... the righteous tone of her arguments ... made me feel like I was part of something magnificent. That my feelings had a natural place in the universe and that the universe was not the narrow construct I feared it was.

So here's Ani Difranco (also a huge part of my coming to terms with all the Big Queer Feels) reading Grahn's "Detroit Annie, Hitchhiking" from The Work of a Common Woman. Happy National fucking Poetry Month, people.

10 April 2017

Wintersong


“The last night of the year," Constanze said. "Now the days of winter begin and the Goblin King rides abroad, searching for his bride.”

Goblins, changelings, magic, riddles, ill-advised and desperate bargains -- Wintersong has them all. Set in 1800s provincial Bavaria, the novel is reads like lushly written homage to “Goblin Market” and “Der Erlkönig.” I think it’s probably a book that would appeal to Labyrinth lovers, although I found it easiest to enjoy Wintersong when I had deliberately cleared Sarah and Jareth from my mind. As far as world-building goes, Jae-Jones’s universe felt richly detailed and real – it was perfectly easy (up to a point) to become Liesl, to believe I was in rural Bavaria, to smell and taste the forbidden fruits, to feel the cold of winter and the dark fantasy of the Underworld .

So world-building, writing, and premise really appealed to me and I enjoyed those facets of the Wintersong. But … there was still too much that put me off, that kept me from properly enjoying the book, and makes me reticent to read the sequel.

Maybe I’m just a cranky old woman, but I find it increasingly difficult to enjoy novels larded with the nonsense that is on-again-off-again romance. You have relationship problems? You figure out, together, how to fix them or you go your separate, but ultimately happier, ways. And sex as a fix for whatever you think is broken within you? Just … no. I have no time for magical healing penises (or vaginas, for that matter).

Also, that ending! How did the world not end? What about the changeling? Wasn’t he supposed to wane and die if too long from the Underworld? And the whole, abrupt Beethoven/Immortal Beloved tie-in ... I just don’t understand where that was going.

Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones (St. Martin's Griffin, 2017)

05 April 2017

Wordless Wednesdays: Wee Purple Survivors

These little purple dudes don't care about snow, sleet, hail, or rain. They're just waiting for one good blast of sun.

03 April 2017

Paris for One & Other Stories


Paris for One and Other Stories is all about women and their romantic relationships. My favorite of the nine stories was the novella “Paris for One.” Nell, an unadventurous English woman, plans her first trip to Paris with her boyfriend ... who bails on her via text, because he is a selfish boy. Unadventurous Nell has all sorts of experiences in Paris, comes out of her shell a bit, and (inevitably) meets a nice French man who is worthy of her. It was a sweet, gently humorous story with, maybe, not a lot of character development or depth, but good fun none-the-less.

This story collection reminded me strongly of the Maeve Binchy and Marion Keyes novels I used to gobble up while traveling -- all thoroughly sweet and predictable tales. Sometimes with a little bit of a sting – whiffs of adultery, generational disharmony, etc -- but they all dealt lightly with such topics and ended pleasantly enough.

Paris for One and Other Stories by Jojo Moyes (Pamela Dorman Books, 2016)

29 March 2017

Wordless Wednesday: Eager Daffodil

"Daffodils, / That come before the swallow dares, and take / The winds of March with beauty" ~ Shakespeare, The Winter's Tale

18 March 2017

Oven-Baked Vegetable Quesadillas

Veggie quesadillas are a great way to use up whatever iffy vegetables you have on hand! As long as you have tortillas, cheese, and spices then the rest comes together pretty easily. Because I'm both lazy and impatient, I like to bake my quesadillas on a sheet pan (rather than one at a time in a skillet on the stove) so they're all ready to eat at the same time!

I used a mix of leftover veggie tray produce in these quesadillas -- red and green bell peppers, summer squash, zucchini, and mushrooms -- but any vegetables you like would work well. For example, when corn is in season, I've made these with leftover roasted corn on the cob, zucchini, onions, and black beans.


Because healthy eating is supposed to be the name of the game, I used Mission Carb Balance tortillas which have 19 grams of fiber per tortilla, but still taste exactly like regular flour tortillas. Some day, I'll get The Husband to eat multigrain tortillas, but for right now ... needs must.

Anyway, these quesadillas go together in a flash. The most time-consuming part is pre-cooking the vegetables and you could probably skip that if you prefer more crunch!


Just stir-fry the vegetables over high heat in a nonstick skillet with a splash of low-sodium vegetable or chicken broth until the mushrooms brown and the peppers start to blister. Then remove from heat and season with whatever Mexican or Southwestern seasoning blend you have on hand (I used Penzey's salt-free Arizona Dreaming).

Then spritz one side of two tortillas with cooking spray (or brush them with a little olive oil). Place lubricated side down on an ungreased baking sheet. Top each tortilla with the vegetables.


Add the tomatoes. I used a 10 oz can of Aldi's Casa Mamita house brand diced tomatoes with green chilies, because they're pleasantly zippy and much more of a petite cut, making them perfect for dishes where you want the tomato to blend in. I saved the remainder of the can to use later in with week in taco pizza.


And now for the delicious cheeses! I used part of a bag of Cabot's Mexican shredded cheese blend leftover from who-knows-when, but any shredded cheese you like is good. While we tend to have more cheddar than anything else on hand, I can tell you Colby-Jack and Pepper Jack work well.


Top everything with another tortilla. Spritz that tortilla with cooking spray and then pop the pan in the 450°F oven for 10 minutes or until the quesadillas look golden brown on top and a little dark around the edges.

And then gobble down the hot, cheesy, messiness and go shovel some more &#%!@?! snow.


Oven-Baked Vegetable Quesadillas

Yield: 2

Ingredients

  • 8 oz sliced assorted chopped peppers and other vegetables
  • 1 tbsp fat-free low-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 tsp salt-free Mexican or Southwestern seasoning blend
  • 4 8-inch flour tortillas
  • ½ cup well-drained canned diced tomatoes with green chilies
  • 4 oz shredded Mexican cheese blend

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 450°F.
  2. Stir-fry vegetables in a nonstick skillet with broth over high heat until the vegetables look blistered and mushrooms are brow. Remove from heat and season.
  3. Spritz one side of two tortillas with cooking spray. Place spritzed side down on an ungreased baking sheet.
  4. Top each tortilla with vegetables, tomatoes, and cheese.
  5. Cover with remaining tortillas and spritz tops with cooking spray.
  6. Bake at 450° for 10 minutes or until tortillas are golden brown.
  7. Cut into wedges. Serve with guacamole, if desired.

16 March 2017

Improv Cooking Challenge: Potatoes & Chives

I was really excited about March's Improv Cooking Challenge ingredients -- potatoes and chives -- because we'd been having such a mild winter that the chive plants in my sheltered back bed never properly died back and I've had fresh chives on hand all winter! Or ... most of the winter. As soon as I made this potato salad, dark clouds massed on the horizon and BLAM! a foot of snow buried everything. Happily, chive plants are hardy as weeds and I'll be knee-deep in chives in another month or so.

This salad would look really attractive garnished with chive blossoms, but SNOW ...

While Potato salad isn't particularly exciting or adventurous, it is one of my favorite foods and I love to tinker with it, trying new variations of dressings, etc. With this salad, I've tossed the hot potatoes with a mixture of oil, vinegar, and mustard -- the potatoes absorb the mixture as it cools and, I feel, the becomes much more flavorful this way. If you are part of the no-mayonnaise-in-my-potato-salad brigade, you could easily omit the mayo ... although you would be missing out on the marvelous combination that is potato and mayonnaise and I would judge you. I used ready-made garlic mayonnaise in this recipe, but you could make your own by combining crushed garlic or garlic paste with mayonnaise until it tasted garlicky enough for you.

Yes, the mayonnaise was expired. Yes, I took it back to the shopped for an unexpired one.

Tangy Potato & Chive Salad

Yield: 6

Ingredients

  • 1½ lbs red potatoes, halved or quartered into bite-size pieces
  • 4 scallions
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp white wine vinegar
  • ½ tsp zippy yellow mustard
  • ¾ cup garlic mayonnaise
  • 3 Tbsp chopped fresh chives
  • Salt & freshly ground black pepper

Instructions

  1. Cook the potatoes in boiling water for about 10 minutes or until easily pierced with a knife.
  2. While potatoes cook, chop all the white and light green parts of the scallions and set aside.
  3. Whisk the oil, vinegar, and mustard together and set aside.
  4. Drain the potatoes. While the potatoes are still hot and steamy, gently toss them with the mustard mixture and the scallions. Allow to cool to room temperature.
  5. Gently fold in the mayonaisse and chives. Chill the salad until ready to serve.
  6. When ready to serve, season with salt and pepper and, if desired, garnish with additional chives and scallions.

Mmm ... potatoes! One of nature's perfect foods.

For anyone new to my blog, the Improv Cooking Challenge is a monthly blog hop where two ingredients are assigned, participants must make a new-to-their-blog recipe using both ingredients, and publish a blog post about it on the third Thursday of the month. If you think that sounds like fun, click on the Improv Cooking Challenge logo below.





13 March 2017

Frogkisser!


Princess Anya's wicked stepstepfather, the Duke, is a powerful sorcerer set on ruling the tiny kingdom of Trallonia ... and that means finding a way to be rid of obstacles like Anya and her distractible older sister, Morven. It also means turning any of the Princesses likely allies -- like Morven's suitors -- into frogs.

Anya's simple promise to turn recently frogged Denholm back into a prince -- Morven isn't in love with him anymore and isn't going to kiss a frog, regardless -- quickly evolves into an epic Quest. Anya will collect the ingredients for a Transmogrification Reversal Lip Balm, save her sister (and herself) from the Duke's machinations, right ancient wrongs, and maybe-sorta make the world a better place.

Frogkisser! is a delightful read that manages to be both irreverent and meaningful at the same time. Many classic fairytale tropes are subverted, nonwhite female characters are integral, and Anya slowly grows into a thoroughly satisfying hero. If you like Diana Wynne Jones or Terry Pratchett, I think you'll enjoy Frogkisser!

Frogkisser! by Garth Nix (Scholastic, 2017)

10 March 2017

Sweet & Spicy Slow Cooker Party Meatballs

To celebrate recently changing jobs (still a librarian, but now happier and better paid) and salute the coworkers (now friends) who have put up with me for ten years, I threw a party. And what's a goodbye party without slow cooker meatballs? I wouldn't know ... I made meatballs.

These bite-size balls of sweet, fiery savoriness are based on MyRecipes' "Chipotle-Barbecue Meatballs." I used more adobo than the original recipe called for and less barbecue sauce and preserves, because I was concerned the meatballs would be too sweet, otherwise. I also added garlic and garnished the finished dish with chopped scallions, because every savory dish needs alliums!


These meatballs are definitely spicy! And it's a sneaky heat, too. Pop one in your mouth and you'll be thinking "Nice texture. A little sweet. Ohh, garlic" chewchewchew and then there's a bloom of heat at the back of your throat that is surprising, but not painful. And you'll try another to see if it has the safe effect. And another.

Or, at least, that's what my guests did! I'm really glad I made two bags, because there wasn't much leftover.


Sweet & Spicy Slow Cooker Party Meatballs

Yield: MANY

Ingredients

  • 16 barbecue sauce [Stubb's "Sweet Heat"]
  • 6 oz cherry preserves [Bonne Maman]
  • 3 canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, undrained
  • 2 tablespoons adobo sauce from chipotle can
  • 1 Tbsp dehydrated minced garlic [McCormick]
  • 2 (32-oz.) packages frozen bite-size meatballs [Trader Joe's]
  • 3 scallions, green parts only, sliced thinly

Instructions

  1. Brush slow cooker insert with olive oil or spritz with cooking spray. Add meatballs to bottom of insert.
  2. Combine barbecue sauce, chipotle peppers, and adobo in the bowl of a small food processor or blender and process until smooth. Add garlic to sauce, pour over meatballs.
  3. Cover and cok on Low for 6 hrs, stirring twice. Set to Warm and serve when desired straight from the pot, sprinkled with sliced scallions. The sauce will thicken as it sits, so give it a stir every once in a while to redistribute it through the pot.

09 March 2017

Refreshing Mint & Melon Salad

The weather may have turned bitterly cold and windy, but there are tiny irises blooming in my back garden and my whole being sings out for spring. Thus, an unseasonable fruit salad is born!

The melon and strawberries are actually leftover from a party tray ... after three days, the melon was just on the edge of overripeness and the strawberries, a bit watery and blah to begin with, were now decidedly meh. Combine them with lime, mint, and a little agave, and suddenly they're splendid!

Hooray! No wasted fruit and I can cuddle up under my fleecy blanket with a big bowl of this and pretend it is spring.


Refreshing Mint & Melon Salad

Yield: 1-3, depending on greed

Ingredients

  • 2 cups quartered strawberries
  • 2 cups diced honeydew melon
  • 1 Tbsp chiffonade of mint leaves
  • 1 Tbsp fresh lime juice
  • Zest of ½ a lime
  • 1 tsp light agave or runny honey

Instructions

  1. Add strawberries, melon, mint to a medium serving bowl.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together lime juice, zest, and agave.
  3. Pour lime mixture over fruit and gently toss to combine.

08 March 2017

02 March 2017

Taste of Home: Taste The Seasons Goodie Box: Winter

The winter Taste of Home Taste The Seasons subscription box it arrived just before Christmas, but I didn't have time to deal with it so it went into the hall closet and there it stayed until ... mid-February, when I realized I'd better get a crack on before spring arrived!



Here's what I found in the winter box:
  1. Access code for three months of free online cooking classes at Salted
  2. Taste of Home Kitchen Companion special edition magazine (Fall 2016)
  3. Taste of Home Soups cookbook (2015)
  4. Several TOH "Most Requested" seasonal recipe cards
  5. Taste of Home Dot-to-Dot
  6. My Spice Sage Adobo seasoning
  7. OXO ladle
  8. OXO slotted spoon
  9. 2 metal seasonal cookie cutters
Overall, I am very pleased with the contents of the winter box. Aside from the ubiquitous metal cookie cutters, everything in this box is very appealing and interesting. I've needed a proper ladle for yonks (a gravy spoon is not an effective substitute), but have been too lazy/cheap to shop for one. The slotted spoon is also, unsurprisingly, a nice improvement over the silicone one I picked up for a dollar at Big Lots. Booth spoons have a nice heft and are quite sturdy, the "good grips" handle is actually a good size for my wee, girlish hands, and the bowls of the spoons are large enough to scoop up a proper portion. I was a little worried the holes in the slotted spoon would be too big for foods like peas and corn, but that has not been the case. (However, I do think the tiny "spring" peas will slip right through the holes and, obviously, you can't use the slotted spoon with orzo or rice).

The Taste of Home Kitchen Companion magazine and Soups cookbook are delightful. So many delicious and surprising recipes in each! Yes, there can be a preponderance of dairy, but we're talking about cold weather comfort food, after all. I was really taken with the recipe for "Rainbow Hash" -- coconut oil, sweet and purple potatoes, carrots, kale/spinach, and garlic -- and have made it twice now (once with kale and a purple potato and once with spinach and two sweet potatoes). The color is beautiful (even without the purple potato) and the hash is just bursting with flavor. Pair it with soft poached or runny fried eggs for a healthy, filling breakfast.


Interestingly, the Soups cookbook is not just soups, but includes many recipes for sandwiches and breads to pair with the soups. I love soup and eat it year-round so I expect this cookbook will see a lot of use. So far, I have made the "Rustic Italian Tortellini Soup" (paired with easy yeasty "Herb Focaccia Rolls" from Taste of Home Kitchen Companion) and the "Southwestern Bean Chowder" (so filling and nutritious).

Making the "Herb Focaccia Rolls" allowed me to use some of the yeast that came with the Autumn box! I generally avoid yeast breads and rolls, because yeast fills me with dread, but these rolls were dead easy to make and I am now inclined to try other yeasty recipes.

I do wish I'd opened this box a little sooner as many of the "Most Requested" recipe cards were suitable for winter holiday entertaining. In particular, I would love to have served the "Ensenada Shrimp Cocktail" and "Marinated Olive & Cheese Ring" at our Cards Against Humanity party. Oh well, we're just about due for another night of Secret Hitler ...

Taste the Seasons is a quarterly seasonal kitchen subscription box curated by Taste of Home featuring themed recipes, kitchen tools and gadgets, ingredients, special coupons/discounts, and free access online cooking classes (which are always awesome). You can buy an individual box for $34.95 or subscribe to the whole year for $29.95 each. Taste of Home values each box at over $80 so it sounds like a good deal either way. Subscription options automatically renew quarterly until cancelled and canceling requires a call to Customer Care. If you have food allergies, you'll want to talk to Customer Care, anyway, before you commit to a box or boxes.

Read about my other experiences with Taste the Seasons.

01 March 2017

Wordless Wednesday: There Be Dragons

My cats frequently have the same expression on their faces.

22 February 2017

Wordless Wednesday: Swears & Coloring

Promised myself I'd color more and swear less in 2017 ... not sure I'm doing it right ...

16 February 2017

Improv Challenge: Chocolate & Chillies

It'sImprov Challenge Cooking reveal day for February, and this month's theme let us all get really creative with chocolate and chillies (aka chilies or chiles). Yum! I immediately knew I wanted to make some kind of cookie so it was merely a matter of thinking and experimenting until I found the recipe that seemed perfect for the challenge.

These cookies are loosely based on the memories of a bite-size chocolate and chili shortbread cookie I ate last year, but I went big with soft palm-sized drop cookies. I want rich, almost fudge-y, dark chocolate goodness, with just a touch of heat and spice. Something that would pair perfectly with an ice cold glass of milk and leave you feeling like maybe you'd been a little bit naughty. I wanted to flirt with decadence without crossing the line into chocolate overload. I think I mostly succeeded with this.

Chopping chocolate is a recommended stress reliever

Dark Chocolate & Chili Cookies

Yield:About 4 dozen

Ingredients

  • 1¼ cup butter, softened
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla bean paste
  • 2 cups white whole wheat flour [King Arthur Flour]
  • ¾ cup baking cocoa [King Arthur Flour Triple Chocolate Blend]
  • ½ tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 3.5 oz bar dark chili chocolate, chopped [Lindt Chili Excellence Bar]
  • 3.5 oz bar dark chocolate, chopped [Lindt 85% Cocoa Excellence Bar]
  • Cinnamon sugar, if desired [Lindt Chili Excellence Bar]

Instructions

  1. In the bowl of your stand mixer, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Whisk together the flour, cocoa, cayenne, baking soda, and salt. Gradually add to creamed mixture and mix well. Stir in chopped chocolate.
  2. Drop cookie dough by rounded tablespoonfuls 2 inches apart onto greased baking sheets. Bake at 350°F for 8-10 minutes, depending on how gooey you like your cookies. Immediately sprinkle with cinnamon sugar, if using.
  3. Cool for 5 minutes before removing from pans to wire racks. Let cool completely before eating ... if you have the patience! (The warmer the cookie, the more fragile it will be so handle with care).
  4. Cooled cookies will keep in an airtight container

Don't be surprised if these are gone in a day

The Husband thought these tasted a bit like "Mexican" hot chocolate, because they're very dark with just a hint of heat and spice, and was happy to scarf them down with mugs of tea. However, if you would like a properly spicy cookie, feel free to double the amount of cayenne. Also, these are fairly soft and crumbly cookies. Brilliant to nosh on (very morish -- so if you have a weakness for cookies, be forewarned) but not suitable for dunking in a cup of tea.

For anyone new to my blog, the Improv Cooking Challenge is a monthly blog hop where two ingredients are assigned, participants must make a new-to-their-blog recipe using both ingredients, and publish a blog post about it on the third Thursday of the month. If you think that sounds like fun, click on the Improv Cooking Challenge logo below.





15 February 2017

Wordless Wednesday: Sweets for the Sweet

A sweet little strawberry mousse cake to celebrate Half-Price Chocolate Day ...

09 February 2017

Slow Cooker Ham & Split Pea Soup w/ Turnips

My lovely, generous coworker gave me another meaty hambone and, of course, I immediately turned it into soup. The recipe follows the same structure as my previous slow cooker ham and split pea soup, but this time I added chopped turnip, changed the seasonings up a bit, and used just water. It was still a magnificent pea soup -- extremely flavorful and hearty (but never stodgy). Good at any mealtime, including breakfast.


Slow Cooker Ham & Split Pea Soup With Turnip

Yield: 6

Ingredients

  • 6 oz dried split peas
  • 8 oz dried whole peas
  • 4 oz chopped onion
  • 4 oz chopped carrots
  • 4 oz chopped celery
  • 6 oz chopped turnip
  • 1 tsp crushed dried rosemary
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tsp roasted garlic flakes
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 meaty ham bone
  • Water, as needed
  • Salt & pepper, as desired

Instructions

  1. Combine peas, onion, carrots, celery, turnip, rosemary, thyme, garlic, and bay in slow cooker insert. Nestle in ham bone and add water until the pea mixture is covered.
  2. Cover and cook on Low 8-10 hours or until peas are tender.
  3. Remove ham bone from slow cooker. Pull meat from bone, discarding bone and other inedible/undesirable bits. Stir ham into soup.
  4. Add more water to soup, if too thick. Season with salt and pepper, as desired, and serve.

I've only recently "discovered" turnips. Probably because I was so resistant to rutabaga for so long -- I just lumped them in together as dreadful root vegetables. But rutabagas and turnips turn out to be delicious. Like broccoli and Brussels sprouts, turnips are in the cruciferous vegetable family and are a great source of minerals, antioxidants, and dietary fiber while being very low calorie. One of my friends uses them as a potato-substitute, as she is allergic to potatoes, and I'm kind-of tempted to try ricing a few, like cauliflower, to see what that's like.

08 February 2017

Wordless Wednesday: Postcards

Postcards to my senators & representatives -- part of the 10 Actions for the
First 100 Days
campaign. Because a woman's work is never done.

06 February 2017

The Star-Touched Queen


Princess Maya's birth was the death of her mother. Raised in a court that believes her curst by the stars and accordingly treats her poorly, at best, Maya's only dream has been to survive long enough in the royal harem to become a scholarly old maid, left alone to her own devices.

Then her father, the King, gets it in his head to marry his wholly unmarriageable, thoroughly star-curst daughter off to one of the neighboring countries (any one of the neighboring countries at that) to "forge peace." While Maya gets her pick of the eligible men, she still must chose one and then kill herself. For the good of all, you know. Great plan, Dad.

But then ... there's betrayal. And salvation. And the quickest marriage ceremony the world ever saw. And running. And magic tapestries. And locked doors. And ... so much happens that I can't tell you about because SPOILERS.

The Star-Touched Queen is Eros and Psyche, Bluebeard's Wife, Goblin Market, and a dozen other tales reforged into one darkly sparkling gem of a novel. A rich, vibrant book rife with flowery prose and secrets ... yum. Go. Read. It. (Yes, it's frequently shelved in YA, but it will please any adult lover of romantic fantasy).

The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi (St. Martin's Griffin, 2016)

02 February 2017

Easy Chicken With Artichokes & Sun-dried Tomatoes

This is an easy dump-and-go end-of-the week dish for when you need to eat but don't necessarily feel like cooking. It's made up of pantry staples and takes less than 15 minutes to assemble and get in the oven. Leaving plenty of time to get on with reading James Essinger's extremely interesting Ada's Algorithm: How Lord Byron's Daughter Ada Lovelace Launched the Digital Age.


Baked Chicken Thighs With Artichokes & Sun-dried Tomatoes

Yield: Serves 3

Ingredients

  • 6 boneless skinless chicken thighs
  • 1 small red onion cut into eighths
  • 2 roasted peppers, drained and chopped
  • 8 oz baby artichokes, drained and halved
  • 1 Tbsp capers, drained & rinsed
  • 8 oil-packed sun-dried tomato halves
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp salt-free Italian seasoning blend
  • ¼ tsp sea salt
  • ¼ tsp black pepper

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 425°F. Lightly brush a baking dish with a little olive oil.
  2. Combine all ingredients in the baking dish.
  3. Bake 25 minutes, uncovered, or until chicken reaches 165°F.

01 February 2017

30 January 2017

Milkyway Hitchhiking, Vol 1


A beautiful cat with a pattern of stars across her back travels across space and time in this mostly unconnected collection of short stories. Sirial's art is simply exquisite with bright, soft colors, and loose, fluid lines that catch and hold the eye. Indeed, I wish some of the pages could be purchased as prints -- I would love to frame them and hang them on my walls.

Unfortunately, the stories leave something to be desired. They're often quite whimsical, yes, but I found many of the human characters so very annoying, and Milkyway's felinized language ("meowster" for "master," "meowy" for "my," etc) is just a little too precious.

Overall, Milkyway Hitchhiking was an attractive and quick read, but I probably won't pick up Volume 2.

Milkyway Hitchhiking, Volume 1 by Sirial (Yen Press, 2014)

25 January 2017

Wordless Wednesday: Boston Women's March for America

Boston Women's March for America. 200K of peaceful, if boisterous, protest.

It's not a proper protest without librarians.

23 January 2017

Iron & Velvet


In an alternate London where magical creatures secretly live amongst humans, a werewolf has been found murdered in the alley behind a vampire night club. Kate Kane, private investigator, is hired to identify the murder or murderers before war breaks out. The vampires blame the mages, the mages claim it wasn't them, and the werewolves are just well pissed. It seems to be a complicated case ... and Kate's sleeping with her (hot lesbian vampire) boss probably isn't helping matters ...

The beginning of the novel was stuffed with so many references to untold backstory that I wondered if I had skipped a book, but I checked twice and, no, Iron & Velvet is definitely the first book in the Kate Kane: Paranormal Investigator series. The repeated references to characters and events I knew nothing about became increasingly irritating and I began to wonder if the book would be a DNF.

However, Kate Kane, snarky violet-eyed half-fairy lesbian with a weakness for femme fatales, began to grow on me a little bit and the world-building, disjointed as it felt, kept being just interesting enough to keep me going. I wanted to know what was going on in the woods at Safernoc Hall and who had initially conjured the toothy tentacled beastie from beyond the stars. Was one of the Princes playing some deep game? Trying to start a war or unseat a rival? Was Werewolf Granny's bite worse than her bark? Would there be a half-fairy, vampire, werewolf ménage à trois? I needed to know.

Iron & Velvet by Alexis Hall (Riptide Publishing, 2013). Kindle edition.

20 January 2017

The Quick-Bread of Comfort & Distraction

I've been all snarled up in a nasty tangle of worry and doubt and grief these last few months. The future, I feel, has become untenable and I don't know what to do with myself. I feel restive and unsure, unwilling to make more than the most basic short-term decisions, and increasingly fatalistic. In short, I'm in a funk.

So, I bake (and donate and make plans to march). There's a comfort in baking, you know. To combine disparate ingredients into a delicious, cohesive whole. To know that wet ingredients go together this way and dry ingredients go together that way and science happens and we have something delicious.

For this particular Bread of Comfort and Distraction, I used King Arthur Flour's recipe for "Easy Whole Wheat Apple-Raisin Bread" which made a delicious quick-bread dense with fruit and nuts and fragrant with the scents of autumn (yes, I know we're in the grim heart of winter). All the ingredients were already in my pantry, so I can claim it was an economical bread. And, as it's made with white whole wheat flour, nuts, and fruit, I can also claim it's a nutritious one.


As I was sticking to ingredients I already had on hand, I used a medley of raisins, because why settle for golden raisins when you can have also have crimson and flame? I also used sliced toasted almonds instead of walnuts or pecans, because someone had eaten them. And, on impulse, I added three tablespoons minced crystallized ginger to the batter just before I poured it into the baking tin, because more ginger is better. And it was good, although it might have been more like spice bread than apple bread in the end. And I sprinkled the bread with both coarse white sparkling sugar and cinnamon-sugar, because I had both in my spice cupboard and thought "why not?"

All in all, it was a rather lovely loaf and my scavenging coworkers ate it down to the last micro-morsel. A few even asked for the recipe, so this is clearly a quick bread that bears repeating. And I suspect, in the coming months, I'm going to be doing a lot of comfort-and-distraction baking. Also marching. And donating.

19 January 2017

Improv Challenge: Lemon & Rosemary

January's Improv Challenge Cooking ingredients are the bright, sunny flavors of lemon and rosemary. I decided to keep my dish simple and combined the lemon and rosemary with garlic and fresh breadcrumbs to make a light topping for baked fish. It's not a very adventurous dish, but it's pretty and spring-like. In this dark, bitter January I need everything that is pretty and spring-like.

I used cod in this dish, which is not a fish we eat very often, but I thought it’d be a fun change from the usual tilapia or salmon. Cod is, after all, a very versatile fish as it is mild and sweet-flavored, making it a good fit for many recipes.

I also used "Spanish Roja" garlic bought at last fall's very rainy Connecticut Garlic and Harvest Festival. The flavor is quite pungent, hot, and lingering. If you don't like strong garlic flavor, the plain ol' ordinary grocery store garlic will work just fine in this dish.

We had leftover sandwich/kaiser rolls so I blitzed one of those to make the breadcrumbs, rather than let it get stale, and that yielded about a cup of fresh crumbs. Obviously, you could use any bread or roll you like to make the crumbs. I'm betting that the garlic ciabatta or rosemary focaccia would be lovely.


Lemon & Rosemary Cod

Yield: 4

Ingredients

  • 2 lbs certified sustainable cod loin, cut into 4 portions
  • 2 Tbsp lemon zest
  • 1 Tbsp fresh rosemary
  • 1 Tbsp minced Spanish rojo garlic
  • 1 leftover sandwich roll
  • Salt and pepper, if desired
  • 2 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • Lemon wedge, for squeezing

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  2. Blitz the rosemary, lemon zest, garlic, and roll in a food processor until the roll forms fine crumbs. Season with salt and pepper, if desired.
  3. Place the butter in a 7x11-inch baking dish. Melt in the preheated oven. Remove dish from oven.
  4. Lay the cod in the baking dish and then flip the fish over to coat. Press the crumb mixture onto the top of each cod portion.
  5. Bake cod for 20 min, uncovered, or until the fish has reached 145°F or is opaque and flakes easily with a fork. Remove fish from the oven, squeeze lemon wedge over it, and serve.


For anyone new to my blog, the Improv Cooking Challenge is a monthly blog hop where two ingredients are assigned, participants must make a new-to-their-blog recipe using both ingredients, and publish a blog post about it on the third Thursday of the month. If you think that sounds like fun, click on the Improv Cooking Challenge logo below.